The most telling stat in WSU football

A FEW YEARS BACK, just minutes after his Notre Dame team lost a nail biter to Navy, Charlie Weis was asked by a reporter to explain the defeat. "They scored more points than we did," he said matter-of-factly. Sometimes, it seems, the most obvious answer can sound like a revelation.

So it is, in this era of saber slicing and dicing in every way imaginable, that we borrowed a page from ol' Charlie and went back to the very basics to find to find the most telling statistic of Washington State's 2013 season -- a statistic that absolutely must improve, dramatically, if the Cougs have any hope of climbing up the Pac-12 standings in 2014.

Points differential.

It's as basic a measure of how a team is performing as there as: Points scored vs. points allowed.

Last season, only three teams in the Pac-12 posted a negative number.

Two of them you can probably guess: Colorado and California. And their numbers weren't just bad. They were all-world horrible. The Golden Bears' average points differential was -22.9 and the Buffs' was -12.8

The third team in negative territory wasn't at those lowly depths, but facts are facts: Washington State's Cougars were the only other Pac-12 team below what we'll call the Holmoe Line (a take off on baseball's Mendoza Line, named after former Cal coach Tom Holmoe).

The 2013 Cougs posted a points differential of -1.5.


1. Oregon: +25.0
2. UW: +15.1
3. UCLA: +13.7
4. Stanford: +13.3
5. ASU: +13.1
6. Arizona: +9.3
7. USC: +8.5
8. OSU: +3.4
9. Utah: +1.2
10. WSU: -1.5
11. Colorado: -12.8
12. Cal: -22.9

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The math is straight forward. The offense scored an average of 31 points a game and the defense surrendered an average of 32.5, thus yielding an imbalance on the wrong side of the ledger.

That's a recipe for a .500 season (or at least close to it, depending on how you perform in the final two minutes of your bowl game).

Just to get into the middle of the conference in points differential last season the Cougs would have had to average some combination of 10 more points a game, be it from scoring more, surrendering less, or a mix of both.

Not surprisingly, the Cougars lost last season to every team in the conference they played with a points differential of more than +10: Oregon, Washington, Stanford and Arizona State. The Cougars didn't play UCLA, which had a differential of +13.7.

The Cougs still beat two teams with much higher point differentials (Arizona +9.3 and USC +8.5) and split with two teams with positive, but below average, differentials (Oregon State +3.4 and Utah +1.2).

AS POOR AS WSU'S POINTS DIFFERENTIAL was in 2013, it nonetheless was dramatically better than in 2012, when the Cougs were a woeful -13.3. Offense accounted for 10.6 points of the improvement in 2013 and defense 1.2 points.

So the trend line is going the right direction on both sides of the ball.

Here's another encouraging bit of data to add to the equation. In five of his ten seasons at Texas Tech, Mike Leach's team posted points differential averages of between +11.3 and +20.6. And in his other five seasons in Lubbock, the Red Raiders put up a differential of no less than +7.0.

In 2014, the Cougars will feature veteran depth at every offensive skill position and will be bigger across the line than they've been in years. On defense, three starters must be replaced in the secondary, but the front seven is athletic and battle tested.

To put it plainly, as Charlie Weis might do when confronted with a pesky sidelines reporter, it will be a major surprise if the Cougars post a negative points differential in 2014.

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